Auburn - MSU Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and Auburn tangle in a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend in Starkville.

Weather - Friday will see temperatures in the mid-60s at gametime and in the high-50s by the end of the game. Skies are expected to be completely clear with no chance for rain.

Saturday's game should be played in low-70s temperatures with partly cloudy skies and almost no chance of rain. The winds should be about 8 to 9 miles per hour and come from the southeast.

Sunday should see gametime temperatures also in the low-70s with a 30% chance of isolated thunderstorms.

Gametimes (All times are Central) - Friday 6:30 p.m. | Saturday 2:00 p.m. | Sunday 1:30 p.m.

5-Year Series History - MSU is 9-6 against Auburn during the past five years, including a 5-1 record at home.

Coaches - John Pawlowski, in his first year as Auburn's head coach, turned around a College of Charleston program that had not won more than 31 games in a season prior to him joining the program. In his nine seasons as its head coach he led the team to an overall record of 338-192 including a 170-86 conference record. His last five teams at CoC won 39 or more games, including a high of 48 in 2005. Three of his teams won the conference championship (2004, 2005, 2007). And his teams played in 3 NCAA postseason Regionals with one advancing to Super Regional play. Overall, his NCAA postseason record is 6-6.

During his five years as the head coach at Kentucky, Cohen, in his first season at Mississippi State, quickly turned a program around that had won just 126 games in the previous five seasons (47 in SEC play) to a program that had a 175-112 W-L overall record and 63-85 in SEC play. His teams won one SEC Championship during that period, the first in Kentucky history. He also produced a school-best 44-win season twice (2006, 2008) while there. In his last three seasons at Kentucky, his teams were 127-55 overall, with the 127 wins tied for second best among all 12 conference teams, trailing only Vanderbilt's 133 wins. Two of his five teams appeared in NCAA Regional play, although neither team advanced to the Super Regionals. His teams overall record in NCAA postseason play at Kentucky was 4-4.

Mississippi State Home/Auburn Away Records - Mississippi State is 13-2 at home while Auburn is 3-3 in away games.

Expected Pitching Rotations - Auburn is expected to start sophomore LHP Grant Dayton (2-3, 3.18 ERA) on Friday, redshirt freshman RHP Jon Luke Jacobs (3-0, 4.78) on Saturday and junior RHP Taylor Thompson (2-1, 7.98) is the anticipated Sunday starter.

Dayton has been a very good Friday night SEC starter for the Tigers, although his trend is that he continues to be slightly less effective each outing - giving up 0, 3, 4 runs in 8, 8 and 6 innings of activity as the season has progressed. But give him credit; he has dominated teams for the first five innings in each game, giving up just 2 runs in those combined innings. And even in the other innings (6, 7, 8) while he's given up 5 runs, 4 came in one inning against Vanderbilt last week. In those three SEC games, he has thrown 22 innings, giving up the 7 runs (all earned) on 23 hits while walking 7 and striking out 22. An efficient pitcher, he normally throws a tad over 15 pitches an inning. While he hasn't thrown any complete games this year, he's going to always give the Tigers an extended outing. Surprisedly, Dayton has performed much better on the road than at home in SEC games, allowing 0 runs in 8 innings in his one road outing while giving up 7 runs in 14 innings in home games. And he's no stranger to MSU, striking out 12 in 7 inning last year to earn the win as a true freshman. In that game he gave up 4 runs (1 earned) on 4 hits and 3 walks. State hit .154 against him.

Jacobs has been a decent Saturday starter for the Tigers, throwing 16.2 innings while giving up 11 runs (all earned) in his 3 SEC starts. And he has gotten slightly better in each outing, giving up 4, 4 and 3 runs in 5, 5 and 6.2 innings as the season has progressed. He pitches about as well on the road as he does at home. Not as efficient as the other Auburn starters, he normally throws close to 19 pitches per inning which leads to a high pitch count going into the latter innings. He normally will give up some early runs having given up 4 in the 2nd inning and 4 in the 3rd inning in the three games. He'll then settle down in the next two innings before being lifted for a reliever prior to or one or two hitters into the 7th inning.

After Paul Burnside proved to be ineffective in the Sunday starting role (10 runs in 6 innings), Auburn moved Thompson in to take his place last weekend against Vanderbilt. And he responded with a decent outing, giving up 4 runs (earned) in 5 innings on 6 hits and 2 walks while striking out 4. He threw 81 pitches for an average of 16+ per inning. During the game, he tossed 3 shutout innings before giving up 2 runs in the 4th. After allowing 0 runs in the 5th, he once again ran into trouble in the sixth (2 runs given up) before being pulled. He has faced Mississippi State twice in his career, allowing 14 runs (10 earned) on 15 hits and 5 walks to go along with his 11 Ks in 10.2 innings. Last season, he gave up 4 runs (all earned) in 6 innings of work against the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State is expected to start junior LHP Tyler Whitney (2-2, 3.81) on Friday, freshman LHP Nick Routt (3-1, 2.79) on Saturday and on Sunday State will probably go with either senior RHP Chad Crosswhite (0-2, 6.16, 5 Saves) or sophomore LHP Forrest Moore (2-0, 2.60, 1 S). If State winds up going with three lefties this weekend that could be to their advantage since 6 of Auburn's 9 starting position players hit from the left side. Auburn has an 8-5 record against lefties so far this season.

Whitney, in three SEC starts, has thrown 17.1 innings, giving up 14 runs (11 earned) on 17 hits and 9 walks. He has struck out 12. Something that's not a good trend about his SEC starts is the fact that in his last two SEC outings, both on the road, he has given up 10 runs (all earned) in 12.1 innings on 13 hits and 7 walks to go along with his 9 Ks. As for his good and bad innings, in the three SEC starts, he hasn't given up a run in the first inning, but he's normally going to give up a run or two in each of the next four innings. Tyler, in his five total starts this season, has gone 5 or 6 innings in four. Although his ERA overall is 3.81, he's much better at home than on the road with a home ERA of 0.93 and a road ERA of 5.30. However, something to watch for is how the defense plays behind him at home. In his two home starts this season he has only given up 1 earned run but 8 unearned runs. Surprisedly, on the road all of the runs he has given up have been earned.

Routt, in his three SEC starts, has allowed 10 runs (9 earned) on 17 hits and 6 walks while striking out 21. He completed two of the three. His SEC ERA is 4.12. He has been most effective in the first four innings and the 6th and 7th innings, allowing a total of just 3 runs in those combined innings. The 5th and 8th innings have usually been his downfall when you consider that he has given up 7 runs in those two innings in his 3 starts. Nick, who is third in the conference with a 2.79 overall ERA, is a very efficient pitcher who usually averages 14 to 15 pitches per inning in all of his starts, including SEC starts. Something that could be in Mississippi State's favor, since this is a home series, is the fact that Nick has a home earned run average of 1.44 compared to a road ERA of 4.05. Also, in MSU's favor is that Nick's mom and dad will be attendance. And you know he doesn't want to do bad in front of his parents. (-:

After throwing 109 pitches Wednesday night in a game in which he only gave up 1 run in six innings, it's very possible that Moore will not start Sunday's game. Moore has been a solid pitcher both as a reliever and starter for the Dogs this season in both non-SEC and SEC action. So far this season, he has started four games and relieved in three. His last two outings have been starts, one being an SEC game. In those two starts he threw 10.0 innings, allowing 3 runs (all earned) on 7 hits and 9 walks while striking out 12. His ERA for those starts is 2.70. To show you how effective he has been this season, in six of his seven outings he has given up no more than 2 runs. In the other outing he gave up just 3 runs. His only nemesis this year has been the walks. He's given up 15 in 27.2 innings, but only 4 of those have been at home which could bode well for this weekend if he winds up starting Sunday. While walks have been a problem, he's made up for it to a degree by striking out 35 batters. As far as how he does when pitching at home, in 13.0 innings he has given up just 3 runs (2 earned) on 10 hits and 4 walks to go along with his 18 Ks.

Crosswhite, although not an overpowering pitcher (87-88 mph range fastball), has been State's most effective reliever and has 5 saves so far this season. If you exclude the outing he had against Georgia in which he gave up 7 runs (all earned) in 3.2 innings, his relief stats are exceptional. And even in the Georgia game, he only gave up 1 run in his first 3 innings. In his 5 other games as a reliever, he has thrown 13.1 innings, allowing 1 run (earned) on 6 hits and 2 walks to go along with his 13 Ks. His ERA for those 13.1 innings is 0.68. If he winds up relieving this weekend, he's normally going to throw just one game in which he will probably throw about 3 innings. He's only started one game this season, giving up 7 runs (5 earned) in 2 innings.

Relief Pitching - Auburn's main relievers should be closer junior RHP Austin Hubbard (2-1, 4 Saves, 5.71 ERA), middle reliever/sometimes closer redshirt freshman RHP Rus Harper (0-0, 13.50), middle reliever sophomore RHP Bradley Hendrix (4-2, 3.32), middle reliever junior RHP Michael Hurst (1-0, 4.63) and middle reliever sophomore RHP Chris O'Neil (0-0, 6.94). There could be one or two others that might throw an inning or two if a game gets out of hand.

Hubbard, during the season and in SEC play, has been inconsistent this year. During his five SEC relief appearances, he's either been very hot or very cold. In two outings against Vanderbilt and Tennessee he pitched shutout ball in 1.1 innings and earned two of his four saves. But in three outings against Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Tennessee he threw 5.0 innings, giving up 10 runs (7 earned) on 11 hits and 4 walks while striking out 7. Normally, you'll know pretty quick if he has or doesn't have his good stuff. And nothing good, for Auburn at least, has come from him being used for more than an inning in an SEC game. In the two games he's thrown more than an inning, he's given up 3 and 4 runs in his second inning of work. As for how often Auburn might use him this weekend, they are not afraid to use him up to two times.

If it's a close game expect Hendrix to come in as the setup man for Hubbard. And he's been pretty effective in that role, giving up just 3 runs (2 earned) 10 innings. If it's not a close game, then don't expect to see him. And I can guarantee you if it's a close game and Jacobs is pitching, then you will see Hendrix be the first out of the bullpen when they take him out.

The rest of the relievers will be used if a game has gotten out of hand. Harper will usually be one of the first out of the pen, but he's also going to give up a few runs, just as the starter did. To his credit, he has been very good in a closer role when one out is needed. He did that very thing in games against Tennessee and Arkansas. Hurst has also been used in middle relief when games have gotten out of hand. He normally throws a couple of innings and gives up a run. O'Neil fills in where needed as a middle reliever or closer in games that get out of hand and he's usually going to give up a run or two in his 1 to 2 innings of work.

Mississippi State will primarily count on Crosswhite (if he doesn't start), freshman RHP Devin Jones (0-2, 7.80), junior RHP Greg Houston (1-1, 5.92, 1 S), senior RHP Lee Swindle (1-1, 7.02, 1 S), possibly junior RHP Drew Hollinghead (1-0, 5.17), junior RHP Justin Bussey (1-2, 8.71), senior LHP Jared Wesson (1-0, 10.79) and freshman RHP Caleb Reed (1-1, 9.64) this weekend. And if Moore isn't used as a starter he could be used in relief, probably on Sunday.

Jones, up until his last couple of outings, had been very effective. Prior to those outings, he had thrown 12.1 innings, allowing 2 runs (both earned) for an ERA of 1.46. But in his last two outings (1 start, 1 in relief) he has been hit hard to the tune of 14 runs (11 earned) in 2.2 innings for an ERA 37.01. So far this season he has appeared in two SEC games (both as a starter) and has had mixed results, giving up 10 runs (8 earned) in 2.1 innings in his latest outing and giving up 1 run in 2.1 in the previous one. If he finds his early success, he could be an effective reliever this weekend. In his first two relief appearances this season (Hawaii, UAB), he threw 6 innings, allowing no runs on 3 hits and 2 walks while striking out 2.

Houston is usually a set-up man who will throw about an inning a game. And he's usually brought in to replace a lefthanded starting pitcher. In fact, in 6 of his 11 games he has come in for a lefty starter. He's also been used to replace Crosswhite when he's not effective which has been a couple of times this season. Although his longest outing is 4.1 innings, he normally pitches 1 or 1+ innings. After being extremely effective early in the season (10.1 IP, 0 R), Greg has had a tough time of it of late - giving up 9 runs (all earned) in 3.1 innings of activity. He has pitched in 3 of MSU's 6 SEC games. In his 2.1 innings of SEC work he has given up 1 (earned) run. Something that could be a positive for State is the fact that Greg has had very good success while pitching at Dudy Noble Field. In his home outings, he has only given up 1 run (earned) in 9.1 innings.

Swindle has been used more as a middle reliever and has seen activity in two SEC games this season. He had mixed success - giving up 1 run in 1.2 innings in one game and 0 runs in 1.2 innings in the other. When he comes in, expect him to throw no more than 1+ to 2+ innings.

Hollinghead has had some success outside of conference play, but SEC play is a different matter. In two SEC outings - both in relief - he has given up 6 runs (all earned) on 7 hits and 2 walks in 1.2 innings.

Bussey started the season with two solid relief outings although walks were a slight problem (3 IP, 4 BB). Then he followed up those two outings with two bad performances (1.2 IP, 9 R). He seemed to have righted himself in his next two relief efforts, then in his last outing he once again struggled with his control giving up 3 walks in 3.1 innings. He also gave up 4 runs in the outing, although only 1 was earned.

Wesson, who has a high-80s fastball, has been ineffective in all but one of his outings. After striking out 3 in one inning in his first outing, he has thrown in four games, giving up 8 runs (all earned) in 6.2 innings.

Don't let Reed's ERA fool you because he's been very effective in his last two outings after starting the year off rocky. In those two relief efforts he has thrown 5.0 innings, allowing 1 run (earned) on 3 hits and 3 walks with 2 strikeout.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games (Hitters have to have 5 or more at-bats in the 5 games to be added to this list) - Auburn has three batters hitting over .300 - Tony Caldwell is hitting .579 (11-for-19, 6 RBI), Justin Hargett is hitting .353 (6-for-17, 5 RBI) and Joseph Sanders comes in at .316 (6-for-19, 8 RBI).

Others - Hunter Morris is hitting .273 (6-for-22, 3 RBI), Kevin Patterson is hitting .267 (4-for-15, 3 RBI), Brian Fletcher comes in at .263 (5-for-19, 6 RBI), Ben Jones also at .263 (5-for-19, 4 RBI), Casey McElroy at .238 (5-for-21, 3 RBI), Trent Mummey at .167 (3-for-18, 3 RBI) and in limited activity Wes Gilmer is hitting .200 (1-for-5, 1 RBI).

Keep an eye out for home runs when Auburn is hitting. In 6 road games they have hit 14 home runs and overall they have hit 58 in the 27 games they have played. Auburn is loaded with talent, especially young talent, if you go by the Baseball America rankings - sophomores Hunter Morris, Kevin Patterson and Brian Fletcher are ranked as the 14th, 23rd and 37th best college sophomore prospects while junior Joseph Sanders is rated the 73rd best college prospect among the top 100 draft eligible college players. BTW, our very own Butch Thompson was Auburn's recruiting coordinator at Auburn when all these players were signed.

For Mississippi State there are 5 players hitting .300 or better, although a couple of them are doing it in limited action. Leading the way is Russ Sneed who is hitting .467 (7-for-15, 5 RBI). Grant Hogue is right behind with a .412 average (7-for-17, 4 RBI). True freshman Frank Rawdow is hitting at a .333 clip (5-for-15, 2 RBI). In limited action Cody Freeman is hitting .500 (4-for-8, 2 RBI) and Brent Brownlee is hitting .300 (3-for-10, 1 RBI). Just below .300 is Connor Powers at .294 (5-for-17, 5 RBI).

Others - Jet Butler is hitting .278 (5-for-18, 2 RBI), Luke Adkins is hitting .200 (3-for-15, 1 RBI) while Scott DeLoach is hitting .133 (2-for-15, 2 RBI). In limited action Ryan Duffy is hitting .222 (2-for-9, 3 RBI) and Ryan Collins (0-for-6, 1 RBI) and Nick Hardy (0-for-5, 1 RBI) are hitting .000.

How Auburn and MSU Match Up
Auburn Category Mississippi State
18-9 Record 15-13
.301 (8th in SEC) Batting Average .289 (12th in SEC)
223 (8.3 pg) Runs 182 (6.5 pg)
58 Home Runs 20
.400 OB % .405
13-22 Stolen Bases-Attempts 42-55
120 (4.4 pg) Walks 138 (4.9 pg)
214 (7.9 pg) Strikeouts 225 (8.0 pg)
189 (7.0 pg) LOB 231 (8.3 pg)
5.65 (11th in SEC) Team ERA 5.54 (10th in SEC)
4 Saves 8
93 (3.4 pg) Walks 128 (4.6 pg)
223 (8.3 pg) Strikeouts 205 (7.3 pg)
.320 Batting Average Against .273
.965 (7th in SEC) Fielding % .963 (10th in SEC)

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.


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